This is an email I wrote my family (my poor parents) describing my experience riding from Vieng Xay, Laos, crossing the border at Nam Xoi to Na Meo, then heading on to Mai Chau, Vietnam.
I left Vieng Xay in Laos and it was 60km to the border. It took me about 2.5 hours since the mountainous road quickly turned to mud from landslides, gravel from oversized trucks, and patches of pavement. No big deal, but then it started raining... and I mean raining. Like, Borneo jungle raining. Absolute downpour.
At the Laos border, they just asked where I was coming from, where I was from, and I filled out my departure card in front of them so they couldn't try any funny business. They quickly waved me through no problems, since over half the staff was sitting in the room watching some modern war movie (I saw lots of guns on the movie).
Driving to the Vietnam border, I parked outside so they wouldn't take notice of my bike but of course they saw then waved me in under the dry area. They checked my visa which I got back in Luang Prabang, checked my ownership card for my bike (which is why you pay a bit more for a Vietnamese bike. You can cross borders even if the ownership isn't under your name, it just has to be Vietnamese), then had me unpack my bag from my bike and put it through a scanner. That was it! No problems, waved me through, and out into the rain. They looked at me like I was a bit crazy but hey, better that than holding me up.
The road was AMAZING which was such a relief in the pouring torrential rain. Better than Canadian roads with super wide highways properly marked and even mirrors around sharper corners. A few landslides to slowly go around in the other lane and as I drove, huge waterfalls were coming down into properly dug out gutters and it was pretty magical with towering mountains, clouds, and roadside waterfalls.
About 100km of great highway and then as soon as I turned left and split off the main highway....
I encountered a massive group of people, trucks, cars, motorbikes, the army, and police officers. I thought Oh Shit what now. The road over a river turned into a waterfall with very fast rapids from the river overflowing. The military were carrying bikes across on bamboo stretchers, people were walking across in thigh deep water holding onto each other, or hopping on trucks and vans who slowly made their way across.
They saw me laughing by the side with my bike, and expedited my crossing, with 4 military guys pushing my bike across the rapids (with my pack and my passport still on it, I was freaking out it was going to disappear on the other side of the river... or down the river) and then I had my own dedicated police officer hold my hand to help me wade across the rapids. I was the only person crossing at the time, as if they couldn't let the foreigner go sliding off the road to her death, so at least 100 people were all cheering me on as I stomped through the water with my police officer. The extra funny part about this is I couldn't take off my rain poncho because I split my pants earlier! The fabric here has no stretch and getting on and off the bike to take a break really does a number on the seams. Or I'm eating too much rice ;) So I'm dragging my pants, shoes, and a poncho through these rapids with my helmet on, grinning ear to ear and laughing. I must have been quite the sight.
I get across these rapids and then of course my engine is flooded and my bike won't start. Good thing there are tons of people sitting watching or waiting their turn to get across, so I quickly had 7 guys working with me to dry out my engine, spark plug, drain my carburetor, and do all the jump starting for me. Then make sure it was good to go before I headed along my way. The rain had stopped by this point, so at least I got to dry off a little bit. The worst are my hands, even with gloves, they get cold pretty fast.
I keep driving along and the road turns to something like from Laos which is no big deal, then again up to a beautiful highway. But then the highway starts to get reeeeaally muddy. And all of a sudden stops at road work. I didn't see any previous detour sign, so I have no idea what to do. This lady appears out of nowhere and points down the mountain to show me this other road. So I have to turn around and go through the thick mud again to get to this steep, muddy, sort of road down into a village. It's as if all my driving so far had prepared me for this point... sliding down a hill in the mud. The road is completely destroyed from heavy trucks being on it, and the rain, and at this point I'm covered in mud from it flying up everywhere and my shoes thick from putting them down to help balance my bike as I slowly make my way through it all.
The road finally clears up again and my homestay (I didn't book in advance, but just marked it on the map) was just up the road. Finally, I roll in to this home and the two older ladies sitting outside look at me and start laughing because Im so dirty and so wet, and each give me a big hug and welcome me in... after taking my shoes off and throwing them in a bucket of water.
It took from about 8AM to 5:30PM in total with all the stops and border and unexpected road waterfall and mud and I was just beat. So I'm about 7km outside of Mai Chau in a minority village staying with a family. It's a beautiful valley nestled in the mountains, a nice family, great sleep, great food, and just overall really peaceful.
Now you have an idea of the kind of messages my parents get, but also a little bit about some of my riding experiences!
Be safe & be happy!